This immersive dance performance explores pleasure from aggression on stage in Toronto
Art worlds tend naturally to implode. Whatever the medium, practitioners veer toward making work that’s best appreciated by their peers, not wider audiences. It’s an understandable impulse and can lead to exciting work, but ultimately it has a shrinking effect. After a while, only insiders pay attention.
Contemporary dance in Toronto seems to have suffered this fate. The audiences are small, the runs are short, and the money is scarce. Since 2004, Larchaud Dance Project has made a concerted effort to push back, combining mainstream influences with contemporary techniques to entice new audiences to dance. Their latest offering, Gridlock, showcases the exciting in-house style that has emerged from this effort.
The first part of Gridlock is performed in the stairways and hallways of Artscape Youngplace. Using the company’s breakdance-inspired technique, the dancers interpret the familiar institutional environment, launching off of benches, rolling down steps, and kicking along the walls.
The show begins with an opening act by Maxz Macalino, who performs a delicate dubstep solo that flutters up and down the first set of stairs past the entrance. We’re reminded of the digital inspiration for this style of dance: the search for clean, programmable sweeps and starts, and the humanizing imperfection suggested by glitchy breakdown.
Following directions on a hand-drawn sign, the audience then shifts down the hall toward its first encounter with Gridlock. We square off opposite five dancers arranged along one wall. The movement begins with playful confrontation, as the performers challenge audience members to arm-wrestling matches and games of paper/rock/scissors.
Gridlock examines the pleasure we get from aggression, and though it begins good-naturedly, the fun slowly escalates toward violence. The early movements are animated by a mood of irritation and one-upmanship, bestowing a real crispness to the choreography, but the tone gradually transitions toward outright competition.
The second half of the performance takes place in a studio, where the audience is commanded to stand along the perimeter by a woman in a sleek dress and pointy stilettos. Here the tension mostly sheds its playful tone, as the dancers finally go after each other in stylized combat.
The mood of this culminating battle is confusing, however. At first the dancers bicker petulantly and bother each other, like children, and then they transform to become warriors in a fighting pit, engaged in a brutal struggle. The drama reaches a high pitch, but at the same time, we’re told to cheer for them, as if it were a team-building exercise or a corporate mixer.
Even so, the theme of instinctual hostility is clear, compelling, and relatable, and it makes enough space to go a few different directions. But rather than stay in the complexity, Gridlock concludes with a video that explains the meaning and purpose of the piece. Rather than let the frequencies ring out, we’re left with a summary.
Overall, the choreography in Gridlock is exciting and the dancers are powerful. Ryan Lee is excellent, as usual, and Patrizia Ferlisi, who performs beautifully as the set-upon outsider, has a wrenching solo at the end that seethes with wildness and frustration. Gridlock is about the universal desire for conflict, but it shows another side too: sometimes the strongest fighters are the ones who don’t want to.
- Gridlock runs June 11-13 and June 18-20 at Artscape Youngplace (180 Shaw St).
- Shows run Thursday through Saturday at 9pm.
- Tickets are $22 advance, $25 at the door, and $20 for CADA members. There are only 30 tickets per show. Tickets can be purchased here.
Photo by Larchaud Dance Project.